Trading In Smoke Breaks

Have you ever wondered if company suggestion boxes ever really amount to change? For employees at one Japanese marketing agency, a simple submission turned into almost a full week of paid time off. After watching their co-workers take multiple smoke breaks during working hours, one employee complained their regular absence disrupted productivity. The company responded by giving nonsmoking employees an additional six days of paid vacation time.

If that sounds like a lot, consider this: Every year, smoking-related illnesses cost over $156 billion in lost productivity, including $5.6 billion as a result of secondhand smoke exposure.

To understand how employed Americans feel about the time their co-workers spend smoking, we surveyed over 1,000 people about how fair smoke breaks really are, if U.S. companies should give nonsmokers extra vacation days, and how many of these extra days smokers would need to kick the habit altogether. Curious how much time is really being wasted by smokers in your industry? Read on to see what we uncovered.

Stance on Smoke Breaks

An estimated 36.5 million adults in the U.S. smoke. While the law doesn't require breaks for employees, additional paid smoking breaks have been provided to employees who request them without the same time offered to nonsmoking employees.

Over 81 percent of smokers said smoke breaks were fair, while roughly 1 in 4 nonsmokers agreed. Perceptions of these breaks varied by industry, as well. Over 17 percent of medical and health care professionals who smoked, themselves, believed smoke breaks were fair.

Other industries with a more favorable opinion toward smoke breaks included wholesale and retail (nearly 15 percent), hotel, food services, and hospitality (about 12 percent), and education (over 11 percent).

Deserving Days Off

Considering the average smoker spends roughly six days each year on smoke breaks at work, we asked smokers and nonsmokers how many extra days of vacation should be offered to nonsmokers.

More than 38 percent of smokers and nearly 20 percent of nonsmokers didn’t think nonsmokers deserved any additional vacation days. While roughly 1 in 4 nonsmokers suggested one or two extra vacation days was fair, nearly 42 percent said nonsmokers should be given between three and five additional vacation days each year. More smokers (over 16 percent) than nonsmokers (nearly 14 percent) indicated nonsmokers should receive seven days or more of additional vacation time.

Time Lost to Smoking

While the average smoker takes roughly six days of smoke breaks every year, time wasted on smoke breaks fluctuated greatly for Americans in various industries.

Americans in technology, wholesale and retail, and finance and insurance spent more than an hour and 20 minutes each day on smoke breaks at work. Those breaks equated to over 40 hours a month and more than 20 days every year for each industry.

Jobs in these industries (including IT and financial managers) are often among the most stressful in the country. Other industries taking smoke breaks for more than one hour each day included transportation and warehousing, arts, entertainment, and recreation, information services and data processing, hotel, food services, and hospitality, and medical and health care.

Incentives for Quitting Smoking

Some additives found in cigarettes can be addicting, and going without a cig for even short periods can lead to cravings and feelings of withdrawals. While quitting smoking can be difficult, one study found increasing the price of cigarettes by even $1 made smokers 20 percent more likely to quit.

On average, Americans would be willing to give up smoking for an additional 11 days of vacation time each year. Women suggested a slightly higher average– 12 extra vacation days each year. Certain industries also indicated a higher incentive price for giving up smoking. Smokers working in education (30 days), wholesale and retail (17 days), and legal (15 days) would need the highest number of additional vacation days to consider kicking the habit.

Monetary Motivation

Despite the health benefits of giving up cigarettes, millions of people find it hard to surrender smoking completely. Despite health concerns, lost productivity, and general time wasted, many Americans believed companies should offer incentives for employees to quit smoking. Highest among them were people working in arts, entertainment, and recreation (over 93 percent), government and public administration (nearly 90 percent), and technology (about 87 percent). Ultimately, 82 percent of employees across all industries agreed that incentives to quit were a good idea.

Breaking the Habit

Quitting smoking can be hard, and a vast majority of Americans supported incentives encouraging co-workers to kick the habit for good. Still, smokers and nonsmokers were more split on how much time (if any at all) nonsmokers should be given in extra vacation time for the smoke breaks they didn’t take. Some smokers even admitted to spending more than an hour away from their desks each day to smoke. However, breaking the habit is sometimes easier said than done. Recent studies suggest e-cigarettes could be a successful tool in helping people cut cigarettes out of their lives for good.

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We surveyed 1,005 Americans from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk about the fairness of smoke breaks in the workplace. Fifty-one percent of participants identified as female, while 49 percent identified as male. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 73 years old, with a mean of 35. Participants were excluded if they were not paying attention (such as failing the attention check question or entering obviously inconsistent data). We weighted the data to the 2017 U.S. Census for age and gender. Hypotheses were then statistically tested.

The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.


Fair Use Statement

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